Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Chinese Needling in Sikkim

Note: This post must be read in conjunction with the following posts on the subject:

China’s recent aggressive move on the Sikkim border is nothing short of provocative. Destroying bunkers and suspending the Kailash Mansorovar yatra are hostile acts and need to be dealt with in befitting manner.

China is at it again; doing what it knows best – a blend of restrained aggression by carrying out “innocuous incursions into Indian territory” along with psychological warfare and propaganda.

In 2007 and 2008 PLA troops made incursions in the small tract of land referred to as the Finger Area  frequently — in 2008 itself about 50 Chinese transgressions had been reported in this area — and then started building a road that crossed this tract of land. It is in this context, the present standoff in the Sikkim- Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction in Sikkim between the Indian troops and the Chinese troops must be viewed.

While the media focus was on the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington, tension was brewing in Sikkim along the Tibet border with China. A highly questionable version of the events put out by the Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed that Indian border guards (probably referring to the Indo Tibetan Border Police or the ITBP) had crossed the boundary and entered “Chinese territory” and obstructed what was “normal activities” of the Chinese frontier forces in Donglang area and that the Chinese had taken counter measures. And the Chinese Defence Ministry accused Indian troops of objecting to the building of a road in what it claimed to be Chinese territory. According to the PTI, the Chinese troops were reported to have destroyed two make shift bunkers of the Indian Army in the Lalten area of Doka La. (It needs to be mentioned that the PLA had destroyed a make shift bunker in the same area of Doka La in 2008). While what is being claimed as a counter measure may have occurred as part of the time-tested tactic adopted by the Chinese, it is extremely unlikely that the ITBP personnel (who do not carry arms in that area) would have carried out any transgressions across the border. This again is part of the nefarious Chinese propaganda.

In order to exert pressure on the Indians, the Chinese shut down the Nathu La pass entry for Indian pilgrims travelling to Kailash Mansarovar (a pilgrim site revered by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains) and called for the “withdrawal of the Indian personnel who had overstepped and trespassed into Chinese border." It is unclear whether the Chinese want a complete withdrawal of Indian troops from the Indian side or only those whom the Chinese have accused of crossing the border.

The Chinese provocation may be attributed to the following factors: One, China perceives a growing threat because of the close relations between India and the US and the mutual defence cooperation which it finds unsettling; two India in no uncertain terms snubbed Beijing on the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) because of its objections to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that is slated to go through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK); third; India is going ahead with a Afghan air corridor bypassing Pakistan which the state-owned Global Times referred to as Indian stubbornness; fourth, India ignoring Chinese objections allowed the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang in April 2017, which it foolishly has been claiming to be part of Southern Tibet. Lastly, according to Subir Bhowmick, a veteran journalist Sikkim is the only sector along the border where India has a tactical and terrain advantage. India’s decision of raising the mountain strike corps, though mired in financial uncertainties, has upped the ante. And hence the coercive tactics adopted by the PLA.

China is also concerned about the proposed purchase of 22 drones by India from the US. These drones will greatly enhance India’s surveillance capability in the Indian Ocean where China has been making significant inroads in the past few years.

Indian policy makers must understand one irrefutable fact that China is an aggrandizing power, a state that would use any means possible to grab territory. China has done it in 1962 and it virtually claims more than eighty percent of the South China Sea through the means of a dubious historical nine-dash line. According to the strategic affairs expert, China has been eating away at India’s Himalayan borderlands. This is a fact, howsoever bitter it may seem. China’s Global Times in its OP-ED has stated: China avoids making an issue of border disputes, which has indulged India's unruly provocations. This time the Indian side needs to be taught the rules.  

India cannot afford a showdown with China on border issues. It lags far behind China in terms of national strength and the so-called strategic support for it from the US is superficial. China has no desire to confront India. Maintaining friendly ties with New Delhi is Beijing's basic policy. But this must be based on mutual respect. It's not time for India to display arrogance toward China. India's GDP is only one-quarter of China's and its annual defense budget is just one-third. Having a friendly relationship and cautiously handling border issues with China is its best choice.

This piece can be interpreted as nothing but a warning exhorting the PLA to teach India a lesson. China needs to be cautioned that it can ill-afford a confrontation of any sort with India at a time when it is unveiling the B&RI and more importantly 1962 is history and China cannot expect India to commit the same blunders it committed at that time to be repeated. Diplomatic niceties do not work with a bully like China. It is time for India to bare its fangs in order to deter China from carrying out its incursions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Kumar

Yes China again is pursuing a strategy of aggressive prodding to demonstrate military superiority over India.

China seems to feel confident that its spending on the military far exceeds India's. New Chinese equipment includes the ZTQ-105 light tank which can operate along the mountainous India-China border.

Always remote but significant nuclear potential limits the escalation of conventional warfare.